44

My question comes from this personal situation:

I have to communicate with a third party logistics company on a daily basis. After a routine communication with this company, I was called into a meeting with my boss who said that he received a complaint about my behavior. Specifically, he said that the company said I swore at them on the phone. This allegation is untrue, and a colleague who overheard my conversation vouched for my story. My boss, however, believes the third-party company contact, and gave me an e-mail warning (copied to HR) indicating how such behavior will not be tolerated.

Given that I must continue to communicate with the third-party company, how can I go about continuing to do my job when I fear more false allegations (and a boss who seems to believe the company contact more than his employee)?

  • 11
    Sounds like politics you are not aware of are happening (or that the third party company is too business critical). – Oded Aug 5 '12 at 19:16
  • 3
    These are all great suggestions about recording your correspondence, but this honestly sounds like a politically charged client relations issue. I have always been one to keep a written copy of everything, but when there is more at stake for the company than your reputation then even if you prove the charges wrong then they will still find a way to scapegoat you or they will just scapegoat somebody else. I have found there isn't much you can do in these kinds of situations. – maple_shaft Aug 6 '12 at 14:48
  • 3
    Here in Texas the first thing that would cross my mind is that the boss wants to fire the OP, and doesn't want the OP to eligible for unemployment compensation. Sadly, this sort of thing happens a lot. – Jim In Texas Aug 6 '12 at 16:19
  • 2
    Were you given specifics of what you were supposed to have said? Is there any chance you were misunderstood? – IDrinkandIKnowThings Aug 6 '12 at 16:50
  • 1
    Some people may have a problem with channeling all of their business calls through a google center that will then record them. This is an interesting solution though. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Aug 15 '12 at 17:30
32

Personally, I'd skip going above and beyond to record calls - it brings up issues of trust and privacy that could as likely get you fired as save your job. Recording other people without their consent can be a violation of privacy, and having company-proprietary recordings you weren't authorized to be making could raise issues of trust with your boss.

Addition: Based on comment thread below - if you've seen this happen before, or have other reason to believe this is a systemic issue, where there's no defense from allegations and arbitration of issues is always one-sided - then it's fair to propose changes to how these things are handled. Recording calls is certainly one avenue to such a solution. So is developing a clearer, documented arbitration system, or a process of mediating or counseling when an issue comes up. Just realize that these sorts of changes impinge on company processes that may (or may not!) be already vetted by legal or other groups within your organization, so they aren't necessarily a fast fix.

The solutions below are more in line with a one-time, do-it-yourself approach that is aimed at getting you out of the immediate unpleasant scenario, and not trying for a systemic change that make take longer than the schedules on your current work may allow:

Here's some alternatives:

  1. Ask your boss for advice.

    Given that you honestly disagree that you swore on the phone, ask your boss how to proceed. It's perfectly justified to ask, especially now that you've been officially warned, how to change your behavior. In particular, you may want to ask what both your company and the 3rd party company considers to be swear words.

  2. Call with a fellow employee or manager or email

    Email has the benefit of being directly storable and it's also written - so you can choose your words carefully, thus avoiding any unintentional form of expression.

    If email isn't an option, check in with your boss and see if it's OK to have him or a coworker on the line when you talk with that particular organization. Tell the person you're talking to that you're doing it, heck, even tell them why - they are the ones who raised the complaint - they should have no issue with you taking extra steps to correct behavior.

    Get feedback from the coworker after the call.

  3. Apologize and Ask

    There are times with customer service where I've been told to just forget the issue - because bringing it up with bring up a sore spot the company would rather avoid. But this doesn't strike me as such a case.

    The next time you communicate with them, I'd apologize for upsetting them (I'd avoid any statement of self-blame) and say - "I was told I swore, and that was the crux of the problem. Do you agree? If so, what word did you think I used, because I honestly don't remember using inappropriate language, it's something I strive to avoid". That way, if they heard something you didn't actually say (like "shift" without the "f" sound... or something similarly benign), you might actually be able to clear it up to a "no fault" mutual agreement.

    In this case, where there could be a bad phone connection, it's entirely possible that what your coworker heard in open air/no impedence, and what the customer heard on the other end of the line are two different experiences.

    To be totally above board, you might even drag your boss into the phone call (you can introduce him or not - as you both agree). That way if the issue is as goofy as a misheard word, he can hear the problem be fixed and retract the warning.

  4. Keep notes

    I don't know of many jobs where people keep really thorough notes of everything they do. I certainly don't - if I did, I'd never get anything done.

    But for this 3rd party, keep a journal of every single interaction. Time/date and what you spoke about. Keep a file folder of this customer's emails, and a notebook of the discussion points of any verbal discussion.

    If nothing else, it'll clarify the interaction you have. Worst case scenario, if you have to sue for wrongful termination, you have a really good log which helps build a clear story.

Things not to do:

  • Being defensive - of course you're defensive - who wouldn't be? But you're going to have to act like you're not - at least with the 3rd party. The more hostile you are, the more tense this relationship will be.

  • Violate expectation of privacy - don't change the stakes for the customer beyond they reasonably believe is the case.

  • 4
    Well, don't just start recording calls without telling someone you're going to do it. That's sort of where the whole "Consult IT" part comes into play. They might even be recording the calls already, who knows... – jmort253 Aug 6 '12 at 14:27
  • 2
    Hrm... I admit I'm not convinced. In the times I've been told I'm on a recorded line for "quality assurance purposes" - it's never the tech himself telling me... having a contact suddenly tell me he's recording our conversation, without ever talking to me about why would honestly creep me out and make me reluctant to work with the guy. – bethlakshmi Aug 6 '12 at 21:22
  • 1
    @bethlakshmi - I've considered doing it with credit card companies, and I don't care if it creeps them out. They definitely aren't on the line to help..... With that said, I just read your answer (completely, this time). These are great ideas. +1 – jmort253 Aug 7 '12 at 2:20
  • I think recording calls is a completely viable thing to do, given permission from IT and/or management. As for the reason why, the person could simply state policy changes and that the recording is for quality assurance (which it is, given that it's currently a he said/she said situation). – Shauna Aug 9 '12 at 14:02
  • @Shauna - if you're willing to go through the work of vetting it with management and/or IT - then absolutely. As long as what you realize is that what you are doing is essentially changing an existing policy - this isn't a quick do-it-yourself fix for a single issue. – bethlakshmi Aug 9 '12 at 16:01
9

Protect yourself. It's about the only thing you can do given that it sounds like you're in a climate where you are presumed guilty until proven innocent. Either that or resign and find a different job.

Assuming you don't want to go for the latter option, then you should protect yourself by keeping your interactions with the third-party company on a written (i.e. email) basis as much as possible. Then you will always have an indisputable record of what was said, when, and in what context.

Since it's probably not possible for you to avoid phone conversations with the third-party company altogether, you should also take measures to record your calls with them, or to at least make them believe that your calls with them are being recorded.

If you start each phone conversation with "we have recently implemented a policy requiring all phone calls to be monitored and recorded for quality-assurance purposes, is this okay with you?", then that should solve the problem of them deliberately fabricating charges. It will not, however, protect you if their idea of "swearing" is different from your idea of swearing, or if they're too stupid to understand that having a recorded phone conversation removes their ability to lie about things, or if they're too smart to believe that the call is actually being recorded.

So the best way to protect yourself would be to actually record the phone conversations, if you can. Depending upon where you are located, this may not be legal. In virtually all jurisdictions you are on solid legal grounds if you notify the person you're talking to that the call will/may be recorded. In most countries (notable exceptions are Finland, Germany, India and Turkey) and most U.S. states even surreptitiously recording your conversation without the other person's knowledge is legal. Some U.S. states do, however, treat any sort of surreptitious recording as a civil and even criminal offense. So definitely make sure you know which laws apply in your specific circumstance. If in doubt consult a lawyer with experience in your local laws.

  • Being unjustly fired for non-existent rude phone calls may be grounds for legal action, though. – Codeman Aug 6 '12 at 19:46
  • @Chad - Good point. I did some additional research and found Cal. Penal Code § 632, which directly refutes my previous statement. I've revised my answer appropriately. – aroth Aug 6 '12 at 23:23
8

Record Your Calls

First, I'm sorry that you're put in this position. This is a tough spot to be in. Chances are, your boss is thinking about the risks to the business and the costs of losing the vendor/client.

Right now, it's your word against the contact's, and if the contact continues to push this issue it can put you in a very tight spot where you can't negotiate properly with the contact because you're backed into a corner.

One possible solution, one that's more accessible than getting a new job, is to record your calls with the contact.

Accessible Technology:

Fortunately, technology has provided us with quite a few tools that can be employed in situations like this to protect ourselves.

At my work, we built an app that gives you your own phone number, and with some configuration, it can actually sit behind your regular phone. Additionally, there are free tools, such as Google Voice that can let you forward your number to your Gmail chat.

The interesting thing about services such as these is that they record your calls. This is useful for several reasons, but in your case, they serve as a record of your conversations with the contact.

Consult IT:

If this is not an option, talk to your IT department and see if they can put an "approved" solution in place. If you're using a VOIP phone service, this may be easy for them to setup.

Legal Disclaimer:

One word of caution: I'm not sure what legal issues you'd run into. I think that as long as one party knows the conversation is being recorded, it's not illegal, and if it is, it may or may not be something you can use in court if the issue progresses. Your goal with using this tool should be just to protect yourself and show your boss and HR that you're not lying.

DISCLAIMER: I'm no lawyer, so be sure to check the last paragraph with a licensed attorney.

  • @jmoreno - You're probably right about finding a new job, but she might not have that option. – jmort253 Aug 5 '12 at 22:05
  • 2
    Wiretaping laws vary by juristdiction, she (or her company) would have to check with a lawyer. Probably better to just start looking for a new job. – jmoreno Aug 5 '12 at 22:13
  • 3
    At least in the US, in some states, recording a conversation is allowed if one party is aware of it. Other states require both parties to be aware. – Keith Thompson Aug 6 '12 at 2:30
  • I'll second Keith Thompson's comment--it varies by state. Note that you are subject to the more restrictive of the laws of any state on the phone call. It's about 3/4 of states permit recording when one person knows, the others require everyone to know. – Loren Pechtel Aug 6 '12 at 4:12
  • 1
    @KeithThompson: My understanding (I am NOT a lawyer) is that you could be prosecuted by the state I'm in. (I'm in one of the oddball states. Recording the phone without everyone knowing it is illegal but if it were in person I could do it legally.) – Loren Pechtel Aug 7 '12 at 1:17
5

If your manager doesn't accept your side of the story, you need to find a new manager as soon as possible. His handling of this incident indicates that he would be happier if you were not there. You are not going to get anything good from him. If he is relatively new, and has problems with many of his subordinates, you may be able to outlast him. If he has been in his current position for many years, you won't, and need to get out of his organization.

  • 2
    This isn't really a way out. The same thing might happen again and again, and if the OP keeps running away every time, she'll have no job in the end – superM Aug 6 '12 at 7:13
  • @superM: so she should expect to spend her entire working life with hostile managers? – kevin cline Aug 6 '12 at 8:47
  • 1
    no, of course not. But there alway might be a choice to deal with a big problem or change the work. I'm for the first option – superM Aug 6 '12 at 10:07
  • It may be the policy for the manager to put a client complaint on record with HR (And probably a lot of CYA). There is nothing about the post that the manager has done anything hostile or any further disciplinary actions were taken. – user8365 Oct 22 '12 at 22:38
  • @JeffO Even if that is the case, I would stop working for that sort of company. It's fair to allow the customer to be right, it's not fair to allow the customer to be $%#@s. It could be a communication issue, if so it should be handled accordingly, but if they are simply lying which results in an automatic write up to save face... That's not a sign of a healthy working environment. (What you tell the customer is one thing, but innocent until proven guilty, I don't write up my staff because someone made a complaint, I write them up because I was able to confirm the complaint had merit) – RualStorge Nov 17 '14 at 17:34
5

My personal solution to this problem would be to request that someone else take over the responsibility of handling this particular client. Given the current parameters, this course of action makes sense.

  1. The client has already accused you. Whether or not this has happened, somehow the client felt that you were disrespectful to them. Continuing to be their main contact will cause an undesirable level of awkwardness in your future interactions from both parties.
  2. Your manager believes the accusation. This means that any further accusations will also be believed, and managers are rarely lenient about repeat offenses. This also means that your manager is more likely to be over your shoulder regarding future contact.
  3. The accusation was false. This means that either the client lied, the client misheard you, or the client considers something to be offensive that you do not. Continuing to speak to the client only leaves room for one of these to occur again and does not bode well for you.

I would explain to your manager that you do not feel comfortable continuing to be the point of contact for that client. At this point, it makes more sense for both your company and the client to have a different contact.

When explaining this to your manager, I would avoid mentioning how this politically protects you (generally speaking, discussing your political goals is rarely the way to accomplish them) and rather focus on how it benefits everyone to have a new voice on the phone after this incident. Just be sure that your wording is not an admission of guilt, but a proposal of opportunity.

1

In this situation, someone is lying: you, your boss or the third party. One possible course of action is the following.

  1. Make sure you were not rude without knowing it. It is possible to be rude without rude words when speaking to, for instance, people from others countries/culture. The first thing to do is to ask for a description of the facts.
  2. When it is sure that you are not "guilty", then answer in an objective way to the mail that your boss sent to you (and CC the HR as well). If you don't answer (in a courteous and calm way), it will not look good for you if you have to take legal action later.
  3. Prevent yourself from another similar problem (see other answers)
  4. If the problem is not you and the third party (=it is your manager), consider moving to another department/team in your company.
  • 2
    Best not to assume that someone is lying in a situation like this as it could also be something as mundane as the connection wasn't the best and someone misheard something. Going in assuming someone is lying is going to cause people to be too confrontational over the matter. – rjzii Aug 10 '12 at 11:36
  • Lying means not telling the truth. Even if you misheard, you lie, but you lie without knowing you are a liar. There is a confrontation if you say to somehow is a liar, but you don't have to to solve the issue. – Sylvain Peyronnet Aug 10 '12 at 11:45
  • 3
    Lying is intentionally not telling the truth even when you know what the truth is, i.e. the is an element of willful deceit involved. That is why I'm advocating avoiding assuming someone is lying as it implies that they are being dishonest which they may take as a personal offense and will put everyone on the defensive. If you miss heard something and believe what you think you heard you are still acting in a truthful matter even though your information is not accurate. – rjzii Aug 10 '12 at 11:48
  • Let's say that you misheard me, let's say that you report to my boss I swore to you, let's say that I am fired. I will lose my job and be angry. Now, in the similar situation except you heard me well and you lie about me sworing, I will still lose my job and be angry. For me the two situations are asame. No matter the intent, the result is the same, so it is better considering the worst when choosing a course of action. – Sylvain Peyronnet Aug 10 '12 at 11:50
  • But I understand your approach, that I found risky if you are eventually confronted to a dishonest person. – Sylvain Peyronnet Aug 10 '12 at 11:53
1

The critical issue here is "This allegation is untrue, and a colleague who overheard my conversation vouched for my story."

Have that colleague file a letter with HR. You need to have that in your file, so that it is clear that, at the very least, there is dispute about what was said.

If you cannot cease interaction with that client, ensure someone else is always on the call, preferably not the manager who doesn't believe you.

As noted in other answers, if legally and technically possible, record future conversations.

1

You have to seriously cover your backside.

While it's illegal to record a two-way conversation, it's not illegal to record yourself. If you have a smart phone, make it good-practice to hit "record" on every phone call. While you can't hear the other end, you can always confirm their statement verbally. eg "So let me make sure I got what you said... did you say ? Yes? Great!" or "No? I'm sorry, please can you tell me where I'm wrong?" .... at least you'll have a transcript of every conversation and stay within the law.

Also, I'd send an email to your boss saying that while the customer alleges that you swore, I would make sure that you email your boss stating quite clearly that you deny these allegations yet at the same time that you accept that it is always important to maintain a professional impression. Also note that while you don't accept the allegations, you understand how important clients are to your business and it would be wrong put any business relationship in jeopardy.

Also ask for feedback on how this situation can be put to bed by working out how this situation can be managed better so that your manager has assurance in knowing that if an allegation is made again, processes can be in place to make a more informed judgement.

1

Join a union.

The union should give you access to an employment law helpline, which will provide advice about the options available to you (and spare you all the IANAL suggestions on websites like this one). They may also offer mediation facilities, allowing you to raise your concern with your boss in a structured way.

If your colleagues are also members of a union, then you could exercise collective bargaining.

Collective bargaining could, for example, be used to improve your company's grievance procedures so that the worker's (in this case, your) side of the story is given more weight by management.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.